Charles Milles Manson (born November 12, 1934) was the leader of a group known as "The Family", in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Manson convinced his young followers of his apocalyptic vision and still has a considerable amount of control over some of the former family members who are still alive. He planned and ordered the family to commit several brutal murders, most notably the movie actress Sharon Tate who was pregnant at the time. He was convicted of murder in what came to be known as the "Tate-La Bianca case", named after the victims, although he was not accused of committing the murders in person. He is currently serving a life sentence in California's Corcoran State Prison, and is up for parole in 2007; due to his erratic and arguably dangerous and insane behavior, it is highly unlikely he will ever be released.
Since his trial and conviction, Manson's name and image have been integrated into American pop culture generally as a symbol of ultimate evil. Both have been used by many artists (mostly musicians). He was also friends with several notable musicians before the murders were commited, including Dennis Wilson of The Beach Boys, and is a marginally successful musician himself whose songs have been covered by many artists.
Manson was born Charles Milles Maddox in Cincinnati, Ohio. His last name was subsequently changed to Manson, after his (largely absentee) father, William Manson. As a child, he attended Walnut Hills High School. When he was thirteen, his mother, Kathleen Maddox (an alcoholic and a prostitute), attempted to put him in a foster home. When she was unable to find one for him, he ended up at Gibault School for Boys, a reform school in Terre Haute, Indiana. Within a year he ran away and back to his mother, who still wanted nothing to do with him. He began living on the streets, supporting himself by theft. He quickly escalated from minor to federal offenses, which carried far stricter punishment. Prior to the killings, he spent more than half his life (around 17 years) in Federal prison —at one point in 1967 asking not to be released.
In 1951, after a string of arrests and escapes, Manson was sent to federal prison for driving a stolen car across state lines. By the end of 1952, he had eight assault charges against him. He was transferred to another facility where he became a model inmate, and was released in 1954.
In January of 1955, Manson married 17-year-old Rosalie Jean Willis, and decided to move to California. Soon after the wedding, Manson stole a car and was arrested. Willis became pregnant in April. Manson's parole was revoked in 1956 when he missed a court date. Soon after his arrest, Willis gave birth to their son, Charles M. Manson, Jr. (d. 1993; suicide at age 38). She then left town with a truck driver and their son.
His prison and probation reports showed a consistent message:
- (1950-52) "Tries to give the impression of trying hard although actually not putting forth any effort ...marked degree of rejection, instability and psychic trauma ... constantly striving for status ... a fairly slick institutionalized youth who has not given up in terms of securing some kind of love and affection from the world ... dangerous ... should not be trusted across the street ... homosexual and assaultative tendencies ... safe only under supervision ... unpredictable ... in spite of his age he is criminally sophisticated and grossly unsuited for retention in an open reformatory type institution"; (1958-59) "Almost without exception will let down anyone who went to bat for him ... an almost classic case of correctional institutional inmate ... a very difficult case and it is almost impossible to predict his future adjustment ... a very shaky probationer and it seems just a matter of time before he gets into further trouble".
Manson was paroled in 1958 after serving two years of a 3-year sentence. In 1959 he was arrested again for passing stolen cheques. Once again, he was given probation which was revoked nine months later. During his probation, he met a woman named Crystal DeAn Gosser, whom he married. Crystal, however, was a psychotic homicidal serial killer. She is still locked up in the MCHS Sanitarium for the mentally ill.
On June 1, 1960, Manson was arrested for solicitation of prostitution. He was ordered to serve his 10-year suspended sentence for passing stolen cheques at the federal prison on McNeil Island in Washington state. Soon after his arrest, Leona gave birth to his second son, Charles Luther Manson. While at McNeil, Manson was a cellmate of notorious 1930s bank robber Alvin Karpis who taught Manson to read music and to play the guitar.
Manson was finally released March 21, 1967 against his own expressed wish to remain in prison. Whilst in prison or on probation, he had raped another inmate at razor point, stolen cars, pimped inmates, and forged federal cheques. His prison reports continued with the same message:
- (1961-62) "He hides his resentment and hostility behind a mask of superficial ingratiation ... even his cries for help represent a desire for attention with only superficial meaning"; (1964) "Pattern of instability continues ... intense need to call attention to himself ... fanatical interests"; then finally, (1966) "Manson is about to complete his ten-year term. He has a pattern of criminal behavior and confinement that dates to his teen years ... little can be expected in the way of change."
By 1967, when he was finally released, Manson had spent most of his adult life in prison, mostly for offenses such as car theft, forgery and credit card fraud. He also worked some time as a pimp. He gathered a group of younger followers, which Vincent Bugliosi referred to as the Family, a commune bound together by fanatical loyalty to Manson, and a negation of all conventional moral precepts.
He soon afterwards moved to San Francisco, at first basing himself and the Family in the seaside community of Haight-Ashbury and then taking over an unused ranch in the western San Fernando Valley formerly used to make western movies, the Spahn Ranch. Inspired by the Beatles' song "Helter Skelter" and other songs from the White Album, he became convinced of an impending race and nuclear war, based on Biblical prophecy in the Book of Revelation.
He implied to his followers that he was Jesus, saying he had died before, some 2,000 years ago. However, when asked directly in court he said, "I may be Jesus Christ. I haven't yet decided who I am." Around the time the family was formed, he is said to have begun calling himself by a slightly different name, Charles Willis Manson (his real name was "Charles Milles Maddox"), allegedly because it could be read symbolically as "Charles' Will Is Man's Son". He had also been strongly influenced by Scientology and, it is hypothesized, a more obscure cult known as the Process Church (also known as the Church of the Final Judgement). He is also known to have rubbed shoulders with the Church of Satan, the Circe Order of Dog Blood and the Four Pi Movement .
Although only a few members of "the Family" came to national attention, the Family itself seems to have been quite a significant size; estimates of up to 100 people (of varying degrees of involvement) associated with the Family have been quoted beyond the "hard core" of around 30.
On the night of August 9, 1969, Manson directed some members of the Family to commit homicide. The members tasked with the killings were Charles "Tex" Watson, Patricia Krenwinkel, and Susan Atkins. At or around midnight, they entered the grounds of the Beverly Hills home of the film director Roman Polanski and his wife Sharon Tate. Polanski, who was in London working on a film, had asked friends to stay with Tate, who was seven and a half months pregnant. Before entering the house, they shot dead Steven Parent, an 18-year-old friend of Tate's gardener, who was leaving the property and had unwittingly seen the intruders. Linda Kasabian, who was acting as the getaway driver, expressed horror at the murder of Parent and was told to remain outside and keep watch while the others entered the house. They assembled the four occupants of the house into the living room where they were tied together. Jay Sebring, a noted hairstylist and friend of the Polanski's was visiting, and when he attempted to defend Tate, he was shot by Watson who then kicked him several times in the face. Wojciech Frykowski and Abigail Folger, who were staying in the house until Polanski's return from London, were able to escape from the living room and were each pursued as they ran onto the front lawn. Quickly overtaken by the attackers, Frykowski was bludgeoned about his head and stabbed to death; Folger was stabbed numerous times until she too was dead. Tate remained in the living room and begged for the life of her unborn baby. Susan Atkins later testified that she had replied "Look bitch, I have no mercy for you. You're going to die and you'd better get used to it", before stabbing her to death. Before leaving the house Atkins used a towel to soak up some of Sharon Tate's blood and then used it to write "PIG" on the front door.
Linda Kasabian later received immunity for submitting evidence against the group. She told Manson, "I'm not like you, I can't kill," and evinced shock and horror at finally seeing the pictures of the killings in court.
The following night in the Los Feliz section of Los Angeles, California, wealthy supermarket executive Leno LaBianca and his wife Rosemary were also killed in their home, once again by members of the Family (Watson, Krenwinkel and Leslie Van Houten). On this occasion, Manson apparently went along to "show them how to do it" with less tumult, and pacified the victims, tying them up before returning to the car to tell his followers to commit the killings. There was no apparent connection between the victims, but the crimes were prosecuted by Los Angeles assistant district attorney Vincent Bugliosi in a single trial.
Members of the Manson Family had previously been responsible for the death of Gary Hinman, a high school music teacher in nearby Topanga Canyon, and were suspected of other homicides. They claimed a total of some 35 killings, not counting those after the trial, of which several were considered likely or plausible, but most were not tried either for lack of evidence or because the perpetrators were already sentenced to life for the Tate/La Bianca killings.
Barker Ranch, in California's Mojave Desert, is known as the last hideout of Manson and his "family" during and after the gruesome Los Angeles murder spree. The local county sheriff department and National Park Service officers had captured Manson and his group in 1969 on suspicion of trespassing and vandalism. At the time of the Manson arrests, the officers were unaware of who they had in custody. They wanted to prosecute the persons responsible for vandalizing a portion of the Death Valley National Park further north, not even knowing that they had a serial murder suspect and his followers.
The murders were on the surface motiveless and unconnected to Manson, but some key motives were later identified. Manson was highly hostile to society, pathologically so, and wanted revenge. Manson got a "kick" out of death and control. During the trial, one witness commented that "he [Manson] doesn't know about love... love is not his trip. Death is his trip".
Manson had been rejected by the music industry and wanted revenge. In the spring of 1968, Charles was introduced to record producer Terry Melcher, son of actress Doris Day, by Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys, who had picked up a couple of the Family members as they were hitchhiking. Manson and the Family moved into Wilson's house, where they lived for a year, and the Beach Boys recorded a song Manson wrote, calling it 'Never Learn Not to Love'. At the time, Melcher and his girlfriend, actress Candice Bergen, were living at the Tate house, and it was there Manson met him. Manson auditioned for Melcher, but Melcher decided not to sign him to a contract. Although Manson knew that Melcher and Bergen had moved to Malibu, Bugliosi suggested that he targeted the house because it represented his rejection by the show business community he wanted to enter, and that it was of no interest to him who his actual victims would be. It is also rumoured Manson auditioned for the Monkees but got rejected, but this is an urban legend as he was in prison at the time of the auditions in 1965-66.
The killers were attempting to clear the blame from Bobby Beausoleil. This was a motive stated by the killers during interviews with them, featured in a 1972 Manson film documentary. They claimed that the motive for the murders was to clear fellow Family member Bobby Beausoleil, whom they described as a brother to them. Stating that they were willing to sacrifice their lives, (meaning the death penalty) to clear his name, they committed copycat murders to cast doubt on Bobby's guilt. This motive was substantially discredited during the penalty phase of the trial, where it became apparent that the "free Beausoleil" motive was contradicted by other testimony of the killers. Additionally, despite declaring they would die for Manson, the other accused claim to have waited until the main trial was over and the death penalty was being discussed, and then only on redirect, to introduce this as a motive. It was dismissed by the prosecution as an attempt to clear Manson by means of the other defendants taking the blame.
Manson had come to believe Armageddon was imminent, in the form of a global race war, and believed he was destined to be the ultimate beneficiary of it. Manson viewed race war as imminent, describing it as Helter Skelter, "all the wars that have ever been fought, piled on top of each other". He told his followers that this was imminent, but that there was a secret underground world reached by a hole underneath the desert, where they would wait out the war in bliss. He described this many times, and it was a part of their communal belief, so much so that they stocked up supplies and searched for the hole prior to the crimes. Blacks would win the war, but be unable to run the world through lack of experience, and the Family would therefore emerge and run it for them as a benevolent autocracy, with Manson at the head of this new world order. The war would be triggered by "some black people coming out of the ghetto and doing atrocious crimes... killings... writing things in blood." However, by summer 1969, Manson was heard to say that the blacks did not know how to start their role in this war, so he would have to show them.
Although all four were possible motives, in the trial the prosecutor, Vincent Bugliosi, placed the latter as the main motive, despite its unusual nature. There have been claims that the prosecution abandoned the third motive in favor of Helter Skelter, which they purportedly made up in order to connect Manson to the murders. This view has not had much support.
The two cases were not well researched by police, principally due to rivalries between the Tate team (older) and the La Bianca team (younger), in which the Tate team were not readily open to suggestions that the two cases were connected. As a result of this, Bugliosi himself played a significant and active role in gathering the evidence needed to convict.
Ronald Hughes, a young lawyer with an extensive knowledge of 1960s counterculture but no trial experience, was the final state-appointed attorney for defendants Manson and Van Houten (several other attorneys were appointed and then dismissed during the trial). He suggested to Manson that he should obtain a different attorney for himself, Irving Kanarek, and continued to defend Van Houten, apparently so that he could defend Van Houten more effectively. He hoped to show that Van Houten was acting under the influence of Manson, and to portray Manson as controlling her actions. This may have cost Hughes his life. In late November 1970, Hughes went camping near Sespe Hot Springs. He disappeared, and his decomposed body was discovered four months later. It is thought that other members of the Family killed him in reprisal for impugning Manson in court; one member of the Family described this as "the first of the retaliation killings".
During the trial Manson and his followers courted media attention. Manson appeared at the trial with a x embossed onto his forehead using a knife. This was copied by his followers the next day. The pattern was modified several times and copied by his followers each time. Eventually the pattern was turned into a swastika and is now a permanent scar.
Although Manson himself was not present at the Tate/La Bianca killings, he was convicted of first degree murder on January 25, 1971, for ordering and directing them, and on March 29 was sentenced to death. The death sentence was later automatically commuted to life in prison after the California Supreme Court's People v. Anderson decision resulted in the invalidation of all death sentences imposed in California prior to 1972. The killers, giggling in court, were asked if they felt remorse, and gave answers that indicated they did not.
The Family survived the incarceration of Manson. After his arrest, Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme, one of Manson's shrewdest, toughest and most obedient followers, effectively took command of the management of the Family in his absence. With a handful of other followers, mostly women, she perched on the steps of the Los Angeles courthouse during the trial, shaved her head to protest his conviction and, copying Manson, gouged an X into her forehead as a sign of loyalty. She later explained: "We have X'ed ourselves out of this world."
On September 5, 1975, Fromme unsuccessfully attempted to assassinate U.S. President Gerald R. Ford in Sacramento. "Time" article Sept. 15 It appears that, although she managed to get close to Ford, by mistake the chamber of her Colt .45 pistol was empty. She was heard to say, "It didn't go off. Can you believe it? It didn't go off!" She stated she had committed the crime so that Manson would appear as a witness at her trial, and thus have a worldwide platform from which to talk about his apocalyptic vision. She escaped prison in December 1987, apparently to try to reach California and Manson, but was recaptured two days later.
Manson gave two notable interviews in the 1980s: the first on 13 June 1981 at Vacaville Prison by Tom Snyder for NBC's The Tomorrow Show, and the second at San Quentin Prison by Charlie Rose for CBS News Nightwatch (aired 7 March 1986). Rose's interview won the national news Emmy Award for "Best Interview" in 1987. 
Manson remains imprisoned, currently incarcerated in California's Corcoran State Prison. All of his applications for parole have been denied, most notably in 1986 when he appeared before the parole board with a swastika embossed on his forehead. During his imprisonment, Manson has received more mail than any other prisoner in the United States prison system. It is said that he gets over 60,000 pieces of mail a year, much of it fan mail from young people hoping to join the Family.
- News cuttings and other material related to the Manson family and the activities of its members from 1969 - 2005 here.
Manson himself was involved in the production of several music albums including his Lie: The Love & Terror Cult (Performance 1970). Brian Warner (aka Marilyn Manson), probably the most notable artist influenced by Manson, has composed several songs related to Manson, one of these being "The Beautiful People", which is a blatant reference to one of Manson's murders, in which he wrote "How does it feel to be one of the beautiful people?" in blood on the victim's front door. This line originally comes from the Beatles' song Baby You're a Rich Man on Magical Mystery Tour.
Hundreds of musicians have recorded songs related to Manson. These include: Neil Young's "Revolution Blues" (likely the best known, perhaps because he knew Manson); Joni Mitchell's "Same Situation", in which he is referred to as "the Lord on death row"; The Ramones's "Glad To See You Go", the opening track of their 1977 album Ramones Leave Home. Devo have been accused of plagarizing portions of Manson's song "Mechanical Man" for their song of the same name. In 1982, Boston hardcore punk band Negative FX featured a picture of Charles Manson, with their logo digitally "carved" into his head, on their self-titled LP. It also featured pictures of Manson family members on the back. This caused much controversy at the time. In 1985, experimental rock band Sonic Youth released the song "Death Valley 69" which was inspired by the Manson murders. In cooperation with director Richard Kern they produced a video clip for the song in which part of the band members were involved in gory scenes.
White Zombie attempted to incorporate samples from Manson's Geraldo Rivera interview on their La Sexorcisto: Devil Music, Vol. 1 album track "Warp Asylum", but were denied permission to use them, reportedly by Manson's lawyers. System of a Down wrote the song "ATWA" on their Toxicity album about the media's viewpoints on Manson. (ATWA is an acronym used by Manson, meaning both "Air-Trees-Water-Animals" and "all the way alive."). Ozzy Osbourne recorded "Bloodbath in Paradise" on his "No Rest for the Wicked" album about the California murders. Transgressive punk rock performance artist GG Allin covered Manson's song "Garbage Dump" on his 1987 album You Give Love A Bad Name. Allin can be seen wearing a Charles Manson T-shirt on the cover of the album. Redd Kross and The Lemonheads have both covered Manson's song "Cease To Exist". Guns N' Roses drew the most notice when they recorded "Look At Your Game Girl" which is a hidden track after the last song on Guns N' Roses' last album (cover album), authored by Manson. This move was made by Axl Rose after meeting the shock rocker Brian Warner who told him about Manson's Lie album and explained how he sampled one of his songs "Mechanical Man" using some lyrics which he reworked into the track "My Monkey" on his first album. The track can be found on Portrait of an American Family. Part of the profits would have gone to him but legal action diverted them to victim Frykowski's son, instead. Brian Warner (aka Marilyn Manson) took the second half of his stage name from Manson. Industrial band Skinny Puppy also used samples in the song "Worlock" pairing them with samples from the The Beatles song "Helter Skelter". He also apears on the album cover for "Rabies" featuring the song. Alkaline Trio have also recorded a song called "Sadie" relating to Manson and the Family. It appears on both their BYO Records split with the band One Man Army and on their 2005 cd "Crimson".
Florida death metal band Deicide recorded a song in which Manson is the primary subject, entitled "Lunatic of God's Creation". English doom metal band Paradise Lost refer to Manson (unsympathetically) on their album "Draconican Times". On the track "Forever Failure" a sample of Charles Manson's voice is used from the British television documentary "Charles Manson - The Man Who Killed The Sixties". Necrophagia (Phil Anselmo from Pantera) includes a "Charles Manson meditation film" on their DVD "Through the Eyes of the Dead." Another English band from Leicester, Kasabian, take their name from the family member. Manson is often referred to in rap music as well, most notably by Ice Cube in the title track of the N.W.A. album Straight Outta Compton ("Here's a murder rap to keep you dancin'/With a crime record like Charles Manson.") A Portuguese band, Mão Morta, has a song named Charles Manson. Of the many rumors of David Allan Coe, one of them is that he taught Manson how to play guitar in prison. On U2's album, "Rattle and Hum", the song "Helter Skelter" begins with Bono saying: "This is a song Charles Manson stole from The Beatles. We're stealing it back.". John Moran The Manson Family: An Opera with Iggy Pop; Produced by Philip Glass
The Tate-La Bianca Murders have been dramatized in movies several times, most notably in 1976's Helter Skelter, starring Steve Railsback as Manson, and its 2004 TV movie remake, which starred Jeremy Davies as Manson, Bruno Kirby as Bugliosi, and Clea DuVall as Kasabian.
Of the eight Manson "family" members convicted in the nine murders that law enforcement was able to establish, only one, Steve (Clem Tufts) Grogan, has been paroled. Grogan, convicted in the killing of Donald (Shorty) Shea, was released in 1985 having served 13 years, after showing the authorities where Shea's previously undiscovered remains were buried in 1979. This was in part supported by a letter from Superior Judge Burton Katz, who had prosecuted the case and praised Grogan's later cooperation.
In 2000, a judge ordered the parole board to justify Van Houten's continued incarceration, citing that in effect sentencing her to life without parole was not an authorized sentence. An appeal court found that the seriousness of the crime had been appropriately weighed by the parole board, and upheld the denial of parole on that occasion. The 4th District Court of Appeal ruled that the state Board of Prison Terms had made a "serious, deliberate and thoughtful" decision in June of 2000 when it denied Van Houten parole for the 12th time. The appeals court said the board had used the correct standard when it found that the seriousness of Van Houten's crime, which she committed when she was 19, outweighed her rehabilitation behind bars. "We find ample evidence that the crime was of such a heinous, atrocious and cruel character that this factor alone justified the board's determination that Van Houten was unsuitable for parole," the court said.
Manson was last entitled to a parole hearing in 2002, and was denied early release, in particular due to a "litany" of offenses ranging from drug trafficking to arson to assaulting guards. He is next eligible for parole in 2007. However, he is expected to never be granted parole.
References and further reading
- Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders by Vincent Bugliosi with Curt Gentry (Norton, 1974; Arrow books, 1992 edition, ISBN 0099975009; W. W. Norton & Company, 2001, ISBN 0393322238)
- Manson in His Own Words by Charles Manson (note that Manson denies authorship), as told to Nuel Emmons (Grove Press, 1988, ISBN 0802130240)
- The Manson File by Nikolas Schreck (Amok Press, 1988, ISBN 094169304X)
- The Family by Ed Sanders (Thunder's Mouth Presss rev update edition, 2002, ISBN 1560253967)
- The Charles Manson Murder Trial: A Headline Court Case by Michael J. Pellowski (Enslow Publishers, 2004, ISBN 076602167X)
- Charles Manson: Music, Mayhem, Murder by Tommy Udo (Sanctuary Records, 2002, ISBN 1860743889)
- Taming the Beast: Charles Manson's Life Behind Bars by Edward George, Dary Matera (St. Martin's Press, 1999, ISBN 0312209703)
- Will you die for me? by Charles Watson (F. H. Revell, 1978, ISBN 0800709128)
- The Garbage People by John Gilmore
- My Life with Charles Manson, by Paul Watkins with Guillermo Soledad, Bantam, 1979 ISBN 0553127888. Paul Watkins left the Family before the murders.
- Manson documentary directed by Robert Hendrickson and Laurence Merrick (1973)
- Charles Manson Superstar documentary directed by Nikolas Schreck (Music Video Distribu, DVD Release Date: 2002)
- The Manson Massacre directed by Kentucky Jones (1972)
- Helter Skelter directed by John Gray (1976; Director's Cut: 2004, Warner Home Video)
- The Book of Manson directed by Raymond Pettibon (1989)
- The Manson Family directed by Jim Van Bebber (2003)
- Helter Skelter (film) directed by John Gray (2004)
- Manson Family Movies written, directed, produced by John Aes-Nihil (2003)
- CharlieManson.com - The Charles Manson Family, extensive information
- Charlie's Family - Information and news related to the Manson girls
- CieloDrive.com - Cielo Drive and the Manson Murders
- Karisable.Com - Charles Manson & The Family
- MansonDirect.com - Information by supporters of Charles Manson
- Manson's official website (archive.org copy)
- SqueakyFromme.org - Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme
- Rosemary: Charlie Manson @ pHinnWeb
- 2Violent - Charles Manson Trialda:Charles Manson
de:Charles Manson es:Charles Manson fr:Charles Manson he:צ'ארלס מנסון nl:Charles Manson ja:チャールズ・マンソン no:Charles Manson pl:Charles Manson pt:Charles Manson ru:Мэнсон, Чарльз simple:Charles Manson fi:Charles Manson sv:Charles Manson